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Sadie Ryan explains how Polish immigrant children use "aye" to fit into the Glasgow vibe.

Key Ideas:

Through this article, Ryan explains how sociolinguistic research has shown people altering speech, or style-shifting, depending on situations of everyday life. As described in specific in this article, Ryan covers second language and how style-shifting appears in the use of a second language. .


"When I compared the style-shifting of the Polish children with that of their Glaswegian classmates, I found that the Polish group at times produced more extreme style-shifting patterns: while the Glaswegian kids were more likely to use “aye” with their friends and “yes” with their teachers, the Polish kids were even more likely to do so. In other words, the Polish children were sticking more strictly to the use of Standard English in the classroom setting, and to the use of Glaswegian Scots in the playground setting."  (Ryan, 2019).


Jennifer Schuessler explains how "Toxic" is Oxfords' word of the year.

Key Ideas:

Through this article, Schuessler explains how "toxic" has made its way to Oxfords' Word of The Year. The word was chosen to reflect ethos, mood or preoccupations of the particular year, but also to highlight that English is always changing .


"Katherine Connor Martin, the company’s head of U.S. dictionaries, said there had been a marked uptick of interest in the word on its website over the past year. But the word was chosen less for statistical reasons, she said, than for the sheer variety of contexts in which it has proliferated, from conversations about environmental poisons to laments about today’s poisonous political discourse to the #MeToo movement, with its calling out of “toxic masculinity."  (Schuessler, 2018).


In an article by Lauren Schneider, we learn how linguists model code switching in bilingual speech.

Key Ideas:

Through this article, Lauren Schneider explains "code-switching", which is the fluctuation between two languages during a discourse. Through the project she is explains, she says that the goal is to determine whether the rules that govern code are universal or vary based on the languages in question .


"That (goal) requires a lot of computational models, because you have to know what languages we’re dealing with in order to tag them properly,” Bullock said. “In order to tag them properly, you need to have context … the tools that we currently use just break down. So we’re working on lots of different computational models.”"  (Schneider, 2018).


Bridget Alex breaks down   the ongoing debate over Neanderthal language.

Key Ideas:

Through this article, Bridget Alex breaks down the debate over Neanderthal language, and presents information, evidence and recent data on the topic.


"Did Neanderthals have language? Before trying to answer that, I should admit my bias: I’m team Neanderthal. As an anthropologist who studies our evolutionary cousins, I’ve seen plenty of evidence suggesting Neanderthals were competent, complex, social creatures. In light of their apparent cognitive abilities, I’m inclined to believe they had language. But I can’t prove it, and no one else can, either. To date, there’s no evidence that Neanderthals developed writing, so language, if it existed, would have been verbal. Unlike writing, spoken languages leave no physical trace behind. Our words vanish as soon as they’re spoken. The best researchers can do is to analyze Neanderthal fossils, artifacts and genes, looking for physical and cognitive traits considered necessary for language. And even after scrutinizing this same body of evidence, experts have come to different conclusions: Some say language is unique to our species, Homo sapiens; others contend Neanderthals also had the gift of gab."  (Alex, 2018).


In an article by our own Dr. Kirk Hazen, we are guided  from diction to rhetoric to writing.

Key Idea:

In this article, Dr. Hazen explains that over time certain jargon and diction used can change and form new constraints due to the context. With the use of modern technology such as the Ngram, rhetors can search phrases and words to find the current meaning and use of the term.


"Several modern word tools can benefit writers, and I use all of these tools in my own writing. These tools include electronic dictionaries, Ngrams, and corpora. Although there are several high-quality paper-based dictionaries (I recommend the American Heritage Dictionary), the benefits of an electronic dictionary are sizeable. Most importantly, these dictionaries save time with easy searching. Even the dictionary on my computer allows me to easily switch between dictionary and thesaurus so that I can fully flesh out a word’s etymology (its word history) and its regular ambience (the kind of context it normally occurs in). With these qualities you can better discern how others will understand the word. Keep in mind that all modern dictionaries (and there are hundreds of them for different specialties) are surveys of usage. That distilled usage is what the writers need to understand to be fully conscious of their writing."  (Hazen, 2016).


In an article by Kumari Devarajan, we find out  the origin of the term, mmhmm .

Key Ideas:

"Once upon a time, English speakers didn't say "mmhmm." But Africans did, according to Robert Thompson, an art history professor at Yale University who studies Africa's influence on the Americas. In a 2008 documentary, Thompson said the word spread from enslaved Africans into Southern black vernacular and from there into Southern white vernacular. He says white Americans used to say "yay" and "yes." As for "mmhmm"? "That," he says, "is African."  

"When enslaved people spoke African languages, it often instilled fear in Southern plantation owners. That's according to John Rickford, a linguistics professor at Stanford University. He says plantation owners worried that the slaves were plotting against them. Because of that, slaves were forced to speak English exclusively. The African words slaves did preserve were ones that could pass as English — words that could "mask their ancestry," as Rickford puts it. But because those words sound like English, they can be difficult to identify as coming from African languages."    (Devarajan, 2016).


Gretchen McCulloch breaks down how fandoms concatenate character names in  A Linguist Explains the Grammar of Shipping.
Key Ideas:

“The first thing we need to look at is where the stressed syllable is in each name by itself. We want to make any syllables we use in the ship name keep their original stress, so that the link between the original name and the ship name is as obvious as possible.”  

“Well, ship names are part of a broader phenomenon of blends in English, from Lewis Carroll’s slithy (slimy and lithe) to why we have brunch and smog rather than leckfast and foke. But people don’t actually go around creating blends all that often—one delightful study of English blends looked at 63 of them, from the well-formed guesstimate, mansplaining, and sexpert to the baffling fozzle (fog+drizzle), brinkles (bed+wrinkles), and wonut (waffle+donut). But while 63 is quite a large corpus when it comes to real-life blends, it’s nothing when it comes to fandom: there’s more than that in ship names from the cast of Glee alone.”   (McCulloch, 2015)       


Britt Peterson works in conjunction with Boston University linguist Daniel Erker to explain  How ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ are changing Bostonian Spanish.

Key Ideas:

“Erker’s paper focuses on pause fillers, those tiny unconscious blips of sound, “um” or “uh” in English. What he’s found is that, as the city’s Spanish-speakers study English and come into contact with different varieties of their own language, filled pauses are evolving.”  

“The folks who have lived 100 percent of their life in Boston almost never use ‘eh,’ ” Erker said. “They have abandoned that category and shifted to either ‘ah’ or ‘um.’ ” In other words the pause filler—a stutter or hum you barely hear—is introducing an entirely new and unfamiliar sound into a Spanish-speaker’s sound vocabulary, changing the sound of their speech and their range as an increasingly bilingual speaker. Erker thinks that “filled pauses are . . . a gateway for the schwa to enter.”   (Peterson, 2015)


A study from North Carolina State University on how  Appalachian students mask dialects in class.

Key Idea:

“Many participants said they felt they had to work harder to prove to others on campus that they are intelligent and capable, “despite” their dialects.”   (Dunstan, 2015)


Gretchen McCulloch gives  an explanation of vintage internet slang in relation to today’s digital world.

Key Ideas:

“[It] taught me what grammar-angry websites still miss out on: language changes, and that’s okay. Speaking informally isn’t being incorrect or lazy, but a deliberate and equally valid stylistic choice.”  

“I’ve learned to analyze language for myself, to experience the power and subtlety of internet language, to question the hoary old shibboleths invented by misguided 19th-century grammarians trying to make English into Latin. It’s because I’ve realized that what we consider “professional” language isn’t just a matter of boring, stuffy suits, but real ways in which we privilege the voices of people who’ve historically had the most power. It’s because I’ve found better techno-linguistic inspiration than any usage guide: now I talk about language as an open source project, a free lexicon that anyone can edit.”   (McCulloch, 2015)


Harvard cognitive scientist and linguist, Steven Pinker, challenges the grammar narrative brought to us by various grammar and style guides with   10 Popular Grammar Myths Debunked by a Harvard Linguist.

Key Idea:

“Neologisms also replenish the lexical richness of a language, compensating for the unavoidable loss of words and erosion of senses. Much of the joy of writing comes from shopping from the hundreds of thousands of words that English makes available, and it’s good to remember that each of them was a neologism in its day.”   (Pinker, 2015)


In  Dear Pedants: Your Fave Grammar Rule is Probably Fake, Chi Luu discusses prescriptivism.

Key Ideas:

“It is indeed important to learn the accepted linguistic conventions of the standard dialect for reasons of communication, clarity and even persuasive style. But it happens to be a historically privileged dialect and is not inherently linguistically better than other, non-standard dialects of English.”  

“Many of these pop grammar rules, that are still seriously taught in schools and universities and even promoted (and inevitably violated) in style guides, were magically pulled out of thin air by a handful of 18th and 19th century prescriptive grammarians. They’re totally made up grammar myths, that somehow gained a superficial, high prestige status among the public and are repeated as fact ad nauseam.”  
(Luu, 2015)


One of our favorite linguistic bloggers, Gretchen McCulloch, brings us the   The Back to School Linguistics Resources Roundup.

Key Sources:

Eight Myths About Language and Linguistics  
How to Remember the IPA Vowel Chart


Meagan Campbell documents new developments in Canadian dialects that resemble “Valley Girl” speech in  Sah-ry, eh? We’re in the Midst of the Canadian Vowel Shift.

Key Idea:

“’We’re in the middle of a transformation,’ says Paul De Decker, a sociolinguist at Memorial University of Newfoundland. ‘Our vowels are getting higher and backer in the mouth, and it’s more widespread, more diverse than we initially thought.’”   (Campbell, 2015)


Britt Peterson of the Boston Globe converses with Yale linguist, Jim Wood, regarding Bostonian English in his piece,  ‘So don’t I, from Shakespeare to modern New England.

Key Idea:

“According to Wood, although the construction is often taken as an example of a contronym—words that mean the same as their opposite—it has a subtly different, rather complex function. It’s often used to correct a false assumption that you might not agree with the speaker.”


Maya Kaufman of CBS News reports on the growing need for forensic linguistics in  Language detectives make the web less anonymous.

Key Ideas:

“Forensic linguistics is the application of linguistics, or the study of language, to the law. Forensic linguists examine language to identify patterns or distinctive traits in the author’s style or decipher meaning and intention.”  

“In this murky and often deceptive digital environment, proponents say forensic linguistics may hold a key to unveiling who’s behind malicious, anonymous posts by using the one thing they leave in the open: their words.”   (Kaufman, 2015)